SANGIN  - British soldiers have returned to an area of Afghanistan for a week-long operation to clear Taliban insurgents, reports BBC.

Afghan military commanders requested assistance in Sangin district, an area British forces defended from the Taliban until 2010, earlier this month.

About 80 members of 4th Battalion The Rifles, based at Camp Bastion in Helmand province, were involved.

The Ministry of Defence said some insurgents were killed or captured but there were no British casualties.

Weapons seized

According to the Sunday Times, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond had personally authorised the return to the area for British forces.

It said 106 British personnel were killed in fighting there between 2006 and 2010.

The paper said the threat to the troops was considered so great that, at the MoD's request, it delayed reporting the operation until it had finished.

The British involvement was part of a major operation by 215 Corps of the Afghan National Army (ANA) to clear insurgents in the Sangin district of Helmand Province, in the south.

The operation saw troops from the UK-mentored 3/215 Brigade move north into Sangin, clearing compounds and seizing insurgent weapon stashes alongside soldiers from 2/215 Brigade.

The Brigade Advisory Group, made up of 4th Battalion The Rifles, provided support to 3/215 Brigade.

During the operation, more than 30 improvised explosive devices were found and destroyed by the ANA, and two insurgent vehicles were seized along with ammunition and weapons.

The Ministry of Defence said UK personnel occasionally operated outside of the usual British area of operations in central Helmand in an advisory capacity.

"These out-of-area operations have been a long-standing element of the UK mission in Afghanistan and are completely in line with our current role of providing training, advice and assistance to the Afghan National Security Forces," a spokesman said.

"Between 2006 and 2010, UK forces provided vital security for the population of Sangin, disrupting the insurgency in an area the Taliban had considered its heartland, preventing the spread of violence elsewhere, upholding the authority of the Afghan government in the area and enabling economic development to take place.

"Much was achieved then and has been since. It remains a challenging area and it is now for the Afghan forces to deal with the residual insurgency."

Brig Rupert Jones, Commander Task Force Helmand, said the operation had demonstrated further how effective 3/215 Brigade of the ANA had become.

"Operating in Sangin over the past week, they have moved to another level of performance and independence," he said.

"It has been a very impressive demonstration of what the Afghan National Army can be capable of."

Kevin Rudd makes surprise Afghan visit

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has made a surprise visit to troops serving in Afghanistan, telling them that it was time they came home.

Rudd, who the Labor Party reinstalled as leader four weeks ago ahead of this year's election, made the trip Saturday with his wife Therese Rein to troops in southern Uruzgan province.

"On behalf of a grateful Australian nation I am here to say to you, the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, thank you for a job well done," Rudd told soldiers at the Tarin Kowt base.

"I say... thank you, and it's about time we brought you home."

Rein, the first wife of an Australian prime minister to visit a war zone, was briefed on aid work and said she was proud to meet the soldiers.

Australia is preparing to wind down its deployment to Afghanistan after entering in late 2001, in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

"When the flag of Australia is brought down for the last time a few months from now, you will have been a part of history," Rudd told the troops.

Canberra has had some 1,550 in the war-torn country but the bulk will be brought home by the end of the year and the Tarin Kowt base handed over to Afghan authorities.

About 300 Australian military personnel will remain in the country after that, as advisers and trainers based in Kabul and Kandahar.

Forty Australian soldiers have died in the conflict, the latest a special forces soldier who was killed by small arms fire in June.

One soldier told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation he was "very honoured" that Rudd, who is under pressure to call an election, had made the visit.

"He's actually taken the time out of his very busy schedule to come and do that for us, it's fantastic, 100 percent support from Australia... makes you a very proud Aussie," he said.

Australia has said it will continue to provide assistance and training to Afghan local forces beyond 2013 and has left open the possibility of a continuing role for special forces beyond the end of their current mission in 2014.